Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

War Powers

I don't blog much, if at all, about politics but I spend a lot of time thinking about it. Recently, someone told me that members of my generation don't care or know anything about politics. I was aghast at the suggestion but upon reflection I think I can understand where he was coming from: having grown up in an environment of growing disenfranchisement leads to a belief that it's impossible to effect change, even if you think you know what to change. I don't even remember a time when congressional districts weren't gerrymandered beyond recognition or when incumbency was unassailable. Unless something changes, my little brother will only vote in presidential elections where untrustworthy electronic voting systems are the norm.

Despite all of that, however, I vote every chance I get. Jennifer and I study for elections, usually reserving most of a weekend beforehand to pore over the hundred-plus pages of voter information booklets that get shipped to every California voter. We spend time researching, trying to pick the best person for the job, peering through the morass of private interest and political machinations and not always coming away feeling like we really understand all that's at stake. I've never voted a straight party ticket in my life, mostly because I don't think anyone really has all the answers. I expect my elected representatives to duke it out to a good compromise. I want the kind of slow, deliberative government that leaves everyone slightly bruised and no-one very happy.

And I worry a lot about the health of the fourth estate. I'm something of an NPR junkie and my favorite show is without a doubt On The Media. It says something about me that I'm not sure I want to acknowledge that I try to make sure I'm by a radio every Sunday a 2pm to hear it. Even though I already get the podcast.

Which is why the administration's saber rattling toward Iran scares the living shit out of me. The Senate can't seem to shake its limp-wristed, morally-equivocting response to the last war while an executive that couldn't be bothered to plan for the aftermath of a war of choice attempts to foment another. The disastrous consequences of our failure to win the peace in Iraq and Afghanistan brings me close to tears. We've shattered hundreds of thousands of lives, returned Afghanistan to the warlordism and feudalism which gave rise to the Taliban in the first place, and wrought untold damage in Iraq. It was our responsibility to ensure law and order after ousting the existing regimes of these countries. This isn't the America that liberated Germany, this is the America that fucked Guatemala for half a century and overthrew an elected democracy in Iran. That overthrow, incidentally, has led us into a trumped-up "conflict" with a bruised, malignant, and blighted society next door to an American quagmire. It frightens me that Bush administration shows no signs of wanting to understand the causes of Iranian intransigence toward American foreign policy dictates. One can only imagine the lack of perspective and historical context in the discussions surrounding American/Iranian policy. The Bush administration wants influence in the mideast and something, anything to draw attention away from 30% approval ratings and a war that is now receiving something that might one day resemble congressional oversight.

Those are both pretty thin reasons to go laying the groundwork for yet another conflict in a region that is both critical to our national interest and growing more unstable by the day. As Juan Cole keeps pointing out, the agro directed in the general direction of Tehran doesn't even make any sense. And it's not like there are any good policy options for a president intent on trying to bully Iran anyway. Sure, there might be some purely military options that would perhaps be available to the US given that we've now got permanent bases in Iraq, but as James Fallows has illustrated, none of them actually make policy sense. Which is why congress needs to find its hands and then use them to find its ass, and quick. Spun the right way, the over-broad authorization of force against Iraq could be twisted to justify limited tactical strikes against Iran. When it blows out of proportion (as it inevitably would), will congress have the cojones to say no? I doubt it. They can't even get to a debate on a freaking non-binding resolution against a horribly unpopular war backed principally by a lame-duck president with approval ratings not seen since the Carter administration. Even with elections looming. Such is the jingoistic power of potentially being seen as "weak on defense" or "not supporting the troops".

And so the media fails us again, the administration makes allegations that aren't even plausible, and the attention that should be directed to a thousand other places gets focused on what can only be described as the wrong things. How long can our flirtation with authoritarian incompetence last? And what will we pay in the decades to come for our duplicitous national arrogance and cowardly ignorance?